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BOULDER — Walk into Warby Parker’s new Pearl Street store — its first in Colorado — and you might get the sense you’re in a university library, if that library had a mural painted by millennial students and most prominently featured quirky coffee table books and the latest independent bestsellers.
What certainly can’t be missed is the wall-to-wall shelves of stylish eyeglasses and sunglasses available for Coloradans to try on.
The store is the 53rd that the eyeglass brand has opened, since its inception in 2010 as an e-commerce site that let customers purchase prescription eyeglasses, with most frames available for $95.
It’s that start online that was actually part of Warby Parker’s reasoning for coming to tech-centric Boulder, said Ruthie Ben-Zvi, a communications specialist for the retailer.
“Because we’re an eyewear company, people don’t think of us as a tech company,” Ben-Zvi said. “But we started online only, by four friends who were still in business school. For many, entrepreneurship and technology go hand-in-hand.”
The nature of the product has also lead Warby Parker to utilize and innovate with technology.
“We were selling a prescription product online which wasn’t really done before,” she said. “To manage that, we created our own point-of-sale system that we built in-house, that’s super easy for us and our customers. Since then, we build a lot of our systems in-house and are using technology to make the customer experience easier.”
That customer experience is part of why Warby Parker started opening up brick-and-mortar stores, an interesting move given the upheaval retail undergoes as most retailers try to adopt e-commerce rather than open more stores.
“Our CEO has said that retail isn’t dead, but mediocre retail is,” Ben-Zvi said. “Tech is a way to make the shopping experience seamless. Moving into retail for us felt like a natural progression. We find when we open a retail store with no presence, we see our web sales increase. Retail is a vehicle for our brand.”
Even in its early days online, Ben-Zvi said that early customers would want to try on the glasses themselves — and at the time would go to the Philadelphia apartment of one of the co-founders to try them on. While online only, Warby Parker developed a home try-on program where customers could pick five pairs of glasses and wear them a few days. That continues, as well as the ability for customers to come into stores.
“In person, there’s a special interaction with the brand that’s irreplaceable,” Ben-Zvi said.
New and returning online customers are welcome to come to the store’s grand opening on Saturday, July 8, at 1949 Pearl St.
“Here in Boulder we feel we’re in a great community,” Ben-Zvi said. “Were in good company. It’s so beautiful here, and it being a college town we feel we have great neighbors. It’s a good place for our first store. Boulder is special.”